Backlash for Blackpool’s train link to London

A Virgin train on the West Coast Main Line.

A Virgin train on the West Coast Main Line.

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Virgin today vowed to appeal a bombshell decision to block its plans for a direct rail link to between London and Blackpool.

Network Rail said the West Coast Main Line is already too busy and could simply not accommodate extra routes.

It sparked anger and disbelief from supporters of the link, which could see a direct service between the resort and the capital return 10 years after it was axed.

Virgin said: “Philippa Richardson, communications manager at Virgin Trains, said the organisation would appeal Network Rail’s decision with the Office of Rail Regulation.

She said: “We have been very keen for this service, which would have started running from December.

“Network Rail says the paths, which would essentially give us track space on scheduled services, were not available.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Today, there are twice as many trains using the West Coast Main Line as a decade ago and, just like a busy motorway during rush hour, more trains mean that if something goes wrong, the knock-on effects can be significant.

“We have acknowledged that performance on the West Coast line is not good enough and we are taking steps to improve performance on the route.

“However, adding more services onto what is already the busiest mixed use railway line in the UK would mean a trade off with punctuality,” he said.

“It would have a significant negative impact on performance for the thousands of other passenger and freight services that rely on this route every day.”

Virgin axed its Blackpool to London service in 2003, leaving passengers to change to a Blackpool or a London-bound train at Preston.

The new route would have involved two trains a day - a morning and afternoon service - and rail bosses had hoped the number would extend to five by 2016.

The decision has been met with anger on the Fylde coast, especially by those who originally championed the link as a boost to Blackpool.

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “I am utterly horrified that Network Rail has penalised Blackpool and the wider Fylde coast.

“Network Rail has declined Virgin’s application on the grounds that it can find no path for the service to use. This is despite the secretary of state’s very clear message that he wanted to see services to Blackpool.”

Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South, added: “We need urgently to have some detailed analysis which justifies this decision, not an arrogant throw-away line about a trade-off with punctuality.

“Network Rail cites the performance of the West Coast Main Line not being good enough, but that is surely a reason for them to get their own house in order rather than blocking a direct service to the people in Blackpool who could do with one.”

Natalie Wyatt, Managing Director of Marketing Blackpool, said: “We are very disappointed with this announcement as a direct rail link between London and Blackpool and the Fylde Coast would enhance the resort’s offer so much more for both leisure and business purposes.

“We will continue with our efforts in ensuring that we work hard to increase these numbers and assist where we can in lobbying for better infrastructure developments for the future.”

Hugh Evans, policy director for the Blackpool-based North and Western Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are surprised by the capacity issue because we thought the whole purpose of the upgrades to the West Coast Main Line were to release extra space, but they (Network Rail) is saying that’s not the case.

“The point of electrifying the line straight through to Blackpool would be to open it up to attract visitors from the Midlands and the South East, but if that’s not going to happen it could potentially damage Blackpool when it wants to widen its customer base.”

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